When is the best time to lamb/kid? (Shepherd’s Notebook)
(Editor’s note: Susan Schoenian is a sheep and goat specialist with the University of Maryland.)
Recently, someone posted this question to a Facebook sheep group, “why do people breed their sheep in the fall and have lambs in the freezing weather?” My response was “many reasons.”
First, there is no best time to lamb/kid. Many factors affect this important decision and as with most management decisions, there are pros and cons associated with each choice and what works for one farm may not be best for another.
As to the first question, “why lamb/kid in winter,” here are some reasons why. Lambs/kids born in cold weather usually do better.
Of course, good facilities are necessary for birthing during cold weather, especially with goats — and this is an added cost.
Worms aren’t active in the winter (usually), so worms, especially the periparturient egg rise, are less of a problem. Predation is less of a risk, too.
In the winter months, labor is usually more readily available to assist with lambing/kidding.
Lambs/kids born early in the winter can be ready for the Easter markets.
Prices at Easter time (especially Orthodox/Greek Easter) are usually some of the highest of the year, especially for lambs.
On the other hand, nature meant for sheep/goats to breed in the (late) fall and give birth to their young in the spring, when the weather is (usually) mild and the grass is plentiful.
Of course, predators and parasites can be plentiful, too. But, that’s also what Mother Nature intended.
Predators have their young in the spring, too, and need to feed them. Worms require warmth and moisture.
They awaken from their hypobiotic (inactive) state in the spring to resume their life cycles.
Spring can be a wonderful time to lamb/kid, though it can sometimes be (too) wet or you can have a late winter storm. Lambing/kidding on pasture is natural, bucolic. It requires less labor and facilities. Animals aren’t kept in close quarters, so diseases are less likely to spread. They breathe fresh air, so respiratory problems are less likely to occur. They get more exercise and can more freely express their natural behaviors.
Lambs/kids born in the spring are usually left with their mothers for longer (at least they should be) and grown out on mostly forage diets. Pasture diets can be more economical and are favored by some consumers. Creep feeding can enhance growth rates and worm resistance, but may not be necessary if pasture quality and quantity is sufficient and parasites can be adequately controlled.
Fall is probably the best time of the year to lamb/kid. The weather is (usually) nice. Worms are becoming less active and cool season forages are experiencing their second growth spurt. Lamb/kids can be sold in December or January, when prices are usually higher, due to supply shortages.
Unfortunately, most sheep/goats are seasonal in their breeding habits and don’t breed as readily in the spring or early summer. When they do breed “out of season,” they usually give birth to fewer offspring. Combined with reduced conception rates, there could be a lot less lambs/kids to sell with fall birthing.
Another alternative is to have multiple birthing periods: accelerated lambing/kidding.
While ewes/does can theoretically produce two lamb/kid crops per year, it is more practical to lamb/kid every 8 months.
Typical birthing months would be January, May and October.
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